I absolutely adore reading - my love for books has had a huge impact on my life! I'm going to grad school to be a children's/YA librarian.
The year is 1863. Miss Wilhelmina Pursling is a nobody. She lives with her two great-aunts in relative obscurity in the English town of Leicester, where she keeps herself busy by trying to improve the lives of the local factory workers. It's a challenge for the shy girl, but she's stubborn enough to do her best to help in any way that she can - but above all, she does what she can quietly, always seeking to divert attention from herself. Enter Robert Blaisdell, Duke of Clermont. He's fascinated by the wallflower, but he also has his own secret agenda that he guards vigilantly, and Minnie is determined to expose it, because if she doesn't, it could lead to her ruin. The likelihood of anything occurring between these two is extremely slim... but hey, it's a romance novel - you know something interesting's bound to happen!
I liked this book so much more than I expected to. I expected it to be a typical romance - and in many ways, it was. Boy meets girl. Boy pursues girl. Girl evades boy. Eventually, girl falls for boy. Girl and boy live happily ever after. If you've read romance, you've read that before, and in that way, this romance novel is no different from every other romance novel out there.
That being said, the characters are marvelously constructed. They're complex - they have their strengths and their faults; every single one of them has a secret that they don't want anyone else to know; they're likable, even when you want to shake them for their stubbornness/stupidity. They're wonderful. I loved Minnie's spunk, but at times, her extreme phobia of being noticed got annoying - but when I learned why she's so shy, everything made sense. Robert is charming and endearing and everything you could possibly want from a romantic hero. Even the secondary characters are great - I adored Sebastian; I thought he was hilarious. And I really liked that even though he's a bit of a douche (if you watch New Girl, he's basically the Schmidt of this book), he's also extremely intelligent and he can have a serious conversation when necessary. The characterization in this book had a huge impact on my reading experience, for the better.
There were some historical inaccuracies, and as a history major, I wish that there hadn't been. However, I do understand that some were necessary for plot reasons and I appreciated that Milan made a point of including an author's note to make sure that her readers were aware of them.(show spoiler)
My biggest complaint with this book is that stylistically, it was very unimpressive. Milan's sentence construction and word choice is bland and unoriginal - frankly, I felt like it was at the skill level of a high school student. However, this blandness was countered by a knack for creating plot twists and always keeping the reader on her toes - as soon as one problem seemed to be resolved, another would present itself and I found that I had to keep reading to find out what would happen next. Milan has created a book that is nearly impossible to put down until you reach the end, and that is a commendable feat.
Being that this is a romance novel, there are some graphic sex scenes, but not to the point that I would qualify them as erotica. The few profane words were all sexual innuendo. However, because of this, from a librarian's standpoint, I would caution against using this in any sort of educational setting and I would definitely make sure that it's in the romance section of the adult fiction part of a public library. Milan makes no claims to be writing for a young audience, but I think that it's important that, as a reviewer, I emphasize that this book is intended for adult audiences.
I really enjoyed reading this book and I definitely look forward to reading more of Courtney Milan's work! I would recommend this to any fan of romance.